Bee species last seen almost a century ago found alive in Australia

A rare species of bee that was feared extinct has been spotted for the first time in almost a century. The elusive pollinator, endemic to Australia, was in the forests of north Queensland all along.

The exciting discovery is the result of a widespread field search that was prompted after bee experts suggested the species might have gone extinct based on the lack of any recent sightings. The “rediscovery” followed extensive sampling of nearly 250 sites across New South Wales and Queensland.

Only six of these bees, belonging to the Pharohylaeus lactiferus species, had ever been caught, the last one of which came in 1923. Now three separate populations have been discovered feeding on flowers and plants along Australia’s east coast.

“This is concerning because it is the only Australian species in the Pharohylaeus genus. Nothing was known of its biology,” says biologist James Dorey, of Flinders University, Adelaide. “It is one of two species in the genus, and the only one in Australia with its sister species in Papua New Guinea.”

While the finding is definitely good news, researchers say that the species may still be under increasing pressure to survive due to the highly fragmented habitat it lives in.

“It is beautiful and we still know almost nothing about what threatens this clearly rare species,” says Dorey. “Again this highlights how little we know about our amazing pollinators and that we need more keen and interested citizen scientists and researchers to work our way forward to both protect, encourage, and utilize these insects into the future.”

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